November 29, 2021

Dante Di Stefano

THE DAY

If you could take the day by the hand
even now and say Come Father
—W.S. Merwin

The day rises like a rock
in the hand of my father
coming down hard

on my mother’s windshield
as she puts the car
in reverse and speeds

out the driveway
leaving him to wander
raving down the cul-de-sac

the day I learned the language
of spider web cracks
on glass and how to remain

mute in front of social workers
how not to relate 
the interior fluencies

of rage and other undertows
I prayed myself into
each night under the covers

sleeping on the floor
so I wouldn’t be dragged
out of bed before the day

could come and choke me
into the silence mantling me
in school bus and classroom 

there were so many days 
like that one 
days flowering kicks cut knuckles

and elbows fists and curses
knees and teeth and fuck you
bitch and slut and fat cunt

the day grew spikes on its back
and gilled itself with despair
the fog pawing my light

and still I prayed and wondered
why my mother 
wouldn’t leave him why love

punched holes in drywall 
broke dinner plates 
took a baseball bat to bedposts

and tv screens but it was more
complicated than all that
the day they took my father in

drugged him and put him
in the psychiatric wing
where we saw him for an instant

my brother and I
he was shrunken and so frail
we barely knew him

decades later the days
I spent with him have accrued
a murky sheen of sorrow

and disgust I try not to dwell on
for the sake of my daughter
and my wife I say let’s make

the day a brocade a rocking horse
a bird on the highest power line
the good milk of being born anew

from Rattle #73, Fall 2021

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Dante Di Stefano: “Rereading this poem is painful for me; the subject matter is hard for me to talk about, but, like all poems, I hope this poem is something more than its subject matter, a necessary, albeit broken, music, a journeywork of enduring and shattering stillness I might dwell in with you.”

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October 11, 2020

Dante Di Stefano

UNACKNOWLEDGED LAUREATES

Today isn’t the first day I’ve googled Glück
to find out the right pronunciation,
but I admit I haven’t read her much
and might not open the wild irises

I imagine springing from the umlaut
of her last name. I admit I love those
tiny planets orbiting the valley
of that “u” more than I love the promise

of any poem she may have written.
And now I’m wondering, for the first time,
about all the poems I’ll never read,
the ones I’ve missed, the ones that will remain

unwritten until after I die, ones
withheld from me by a whim of tempo.
Oh Louise, as you say in a poem
of yours I looked up online, “Don’t listen

to me; my heart’s been broken.” The world seems
like it’s ending right now, but, then again,
it always does, and, after all, I feel
like I’m carrying all the enjambments

of the poetry I haven’t read—in
the arrhythmias of the everyday—
and this carrying I rarely notice:
an ocean in a single drop, a song.

from Poets Respond
October 11, 2020

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Dante Di Stefano: “I wrote this poem after reading about Louise Glück’s Nobel Prize win. I was thinking, for the first time, about all of the great poetry that for one reason or another I won’t read in my lifetime. It’s interesting to consider how what you haven’t read might vertebrae your life as much as what you have read.”

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April 14, 2020

Dante Di Stefano

NOTES TO MYSELF DURING NATIONAL POETRY MONTH, 2020

Remember, bluets still sprout
beneath your boots
when you take your daughter
for a walk by the river.

Even though an orange snow fence
surrounds the jungle gym
in the park down the street,
there’s the low fork
of a young oak to sit her in.

Remember, even if the hoops
have all been unscrewed
from the backboards,
you can still feign a hook shot for her.

Remember, if the balcony
is closed,
sing through the wall.

Find the riot, unquelled,
in the cherry blossom’s center.

Remember, beneath each scarf,
bandanna, and surgical mask,
there is a throat
that might break into sudden
surprising aria.

Remember, how astonished
your daughter is
at motorcycles and ladybugs,
a pebble she finds
in a neighbor’s driveway,
the stars, the moon, mayflies,
streetlights seen from
the window before bed.

Remember, the image of
your wife’s brown hair
sprawled on the pillow
in the blue hour
of any morning
is worth more
than all your poems.

Remember, even an angry word
from her
is worth more than
the best line of poetry
you have ever read.

Remember, your poems
cannot shelter you,
or make a roof
for the ones you love.

Remember, the earth’s
sole vocation is to astonish.

Remember, the angels of the earth
choir themselves
with mouths full of sod.

Remember, glaciers melt,
oceans rise,
coastlines recede.

Remember, everything can happen
at once and always,
and God, and heaven, and hell.

Remember, the world is
inside you,
the meadow between
one clover and one bee.

Remember, the world is sweet
and spinning, still.

from Poets Respond
April 14, 2020

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Dante Di Stefano: “This is really a love note to my wife and to my daughter, and also a poem about what poetry means, and doesn’t mean, to me.” (web)

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December 24, 2019

Dante Di Stefano

JOY TO THE WORLD

Tonight my daughter says goodnight
to every ornament on the tree

the snowman whose carrot-nose has broken
the winged seahorse
the iridescent grasshopper
the plastic snowflake
the golden doodle bounding through leaves
the pink glass octopus
the blue glass whale
the teacup diorama with the missing fawn and palm trees
the crooked angel at the top she calls mama
you get the point

she kisses the one two three burned out lights
near the porcelain baby carriage
emblazoned with the year of her birth
2018

she is 23 months old
the same age as Angie Valeria Martínez Ávalos
the little girl found dead in the Río Grande
with her father Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez
last summer

do you remember them (?)

a picture of their corpses went viral
I had almost forgotten but then I read a poem
by Martín Espada called “Floaters”
and it all came back

I googled Óscar y Valeria
I looked at the picture

you should too
I can’t describe it

my daughter pets my face before I put her in her crib

she says goodnight to

the wooden zebra
the sparkly carousel horse
the santa made of baked clay
the mint chocolate chip ice cream cone made of green and brown felt

there is an impeachment
going on

something is happening
in Hong Kong

in Las Vegas
someone is putting
tiny cowboy hats
on pigeons
and nobody knows why

nobody knows why anymore

I’m not really thinking too hard about
that William Carlos Williams quote
about the news and poems

I’m thinking about
Óscar y Valeria
because of a poem though

and in this moment my daughter pets my face
and says goodnight
to the magi inside the snow globe in the kitchen

and I have all I want of heaven
in the crèche of my heart
in this catalog of tree decorations

the snowy-roofed church
the bear with an elf hat
a starship enterprise
the jingle bell reindeer
a silver mistletoe
the ceramic holly sprig
a rainbow-colored candy cane
the caroler sad but singing

I am sad but singing
and grateful
so very grateful

a poet in earmuffs and scarf
ridiculous as Bob Cratchit
and Tiny Tim and Ebenezer Scrooge

belling all goodnight

the way my daughter
bells love when she says my
and reaches out.

from Poets Respond
December 24, 2019

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Dante Di Stefano: “This poem is about hope and sadness in this particular holiday season. Please read ‘Floaters’ by Martín Espada here.” (web)

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June 16, 2019

Dante Di Stefano

A PARTIAL EXPLANATION OF MY FATHER AND OF MYSELF FOR MY EIGHTEEN-MONTH-OLD DAUGHTER

I spent far too many years learning him
without learning,
trying to gauge the man

in the language of clenched fist
and midnight prayer; my father
was a broken man,

who went to sleep most nights
before the sun went down
and sometimes he woke

to curse my mother and kick her
out of bed, to call her fat—slut,
cow, bitch—and punch her places

where the bruises wouldn’t show.
I never escaped the angers
of that house or the strange

deep sadness of my father,
who only showed his true face
in our home. I never write

about this because what’s
the point. There was goodness
in him too, but as I aged

I inherited his angers
and channeled them back
at him and at myself

until the cancer came
and his frail body brooked me
back to some brief repose.

Now that he’s gone,
I still struggle to see the best
in him. Today, my girl,

I took you to a gazebo
where an old church bell
has been mounted

on a stand. It no longer rings
unless you slap it
with the flat of your palm.

I hold you up to it
and let you loose its song,
which you do with both hands

flapping like two beautiful
lily little swanlings
about to take flight,

the way my hands took flight
when my father
used to lift me up

to punch the speedbag
in our basement,
back before I knew

the world as anything
but sunlight on gravel
and a wagon pulled

by sparrows. Dear girl,
may I shield you
from as many aches

as I am able, may you
know me as the hands
that held you up

to set the bronze
to singing along
the avenues.

from Poets Respond
June 16, 2019

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Dante Di Stefano: “Today is Father’s Day. This poem attempts to sort through some of my feelings about my father, who suffered from mental illness and was prone to violence. For years, I feared I would become like him. After he died, I wrote many poems focusing on the good aspects of the man. Now that I am a father, I’m seeking to let go of some of the anger I feel towards him still by trying to write a more complete picture of the man. I hope that some of these words will be meaningful for my daughter when she grows up. The greatest thing that ever happened to me in life was becoming a father, and, despite everything, I know that my father felt the same way.” (web)

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September 25, 2018

Dante Di Stefano

IN A JAMES DICKEY POEM

some teenage girl is always being fucked
in a barn or whipped
during a sermon

while some stewardess is always losing her clothes
as she falls through space
and it’s not the atmosphere’s fault

she’s disrobing
it’s just a conspiracy of aerodynamics
and we shouldn’t think

too deeply about it because maybe
after all the barn’s on fire
and the stewardess wanted this

particular type of plummeting
and this is only poetry for god’s sake
it’s not a constitutional amendment

or a confirmation hearing
that’s just to say, nothing’s at stake
except maybe beauty

and my allegiance to it
what does it say if we canonize
such fallings

and today I was reading my daughter
a poem
no that’s a lie

I was reading her a children’s book
about a pigeon
who didn’t want to take a bath

it was silly
but she cooed at the bright pages
and I was still thinking

about James Dickey
and how complicity is a freak beast
like a sheep-child in formaldehyde

and I want a world
where my little girl grows up
to rebuke the wind inside of poems

and testimonies and scriptures and laws
and newsfeeds and subcommittees
and will fashion a parachute

from the air inside her own bright lungs
and where she will not be fodder for any poem
but will be a poem herself in every atom of her intellect

from Poets Respond
September 25, 2018

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Dante Di Stefano: “I wrote this poem while thinking about some troubling aspects of poets like James Dickey who I have admired for years, but I guess it’s really about the developments in Christine Blasey Ford’s story and the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation process, and the misogyny that is so much a part of American culture.”

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February 18, 2018

Dante Di Stefano

LOVE POEM COMPOSED UNDER THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION BEGINNING WITH MISREMEMBERED LINES FROM PABLO NERUDA AND NICANOR PARRA

for my wife, one month after the birth of our daughter

You look like the world in your rocking chair,
the nightlight a butterfly flowering
the moon of your breast beaconing against
the thought that what we are living through might
destroy us. We are safe in suburb
and side street and at work I now only
think of you and our little girl, except
today when my student, Angel Cruz (not
his name), smiled and told me how he’d paid off
his debt to the men who had smuggled him
across the border and now he could save
one hundred dollars from the three hundred
a week he earned washing dishes to send
to his mother back in Guatemala,
unless ICE raids the diner where he works;
he worries, but he doesn’t stop smiling,
and I am grateful that our girl will grow
into the small axe of the self without
such worries. She will have other worries,
the sad strange knowledge that our comfort comes
at a cost. Always. It is true, before
she was born I didn’t really know love
or fear, but now both are braiding rivers
inside my chest and a new chamber thumps
wifely inside each chamber of my heart.
Meanwhile, the football coaches arm themselves
with dirty jokes as the president tweets,
the EPA pins Silver Stars to dead
polar bears, and somewhere in the Midwest
someone’s making a confederate flag
out of melted red plastic army men.
To our newborn child I say: sweet cluster
of cells containing a cosmos, this world
you have entered now would terrify me,
if I did not understand the body
as writ for flying, as juke, hew, and cleave,
as among the ruin and breakage, this shine,
if I did not know your birthright is fire,
your mother’s real name, Illumination.

from Poets Respond
February 18, 2018

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Dante Di Stefano: “This is a Valentine’s Day poem for my wife, written while thinking about the many immigrant students I have taught over the past decade in my job as a high school English teacher. The conversation with the student in the poem is based on a real conversation I had with a student last week. With the continued debate over DACA in the news yet again this week, and the perpetual virulent rhetoric about a wall on our southern border, the commercial holiday seems crasser than usual this year. However, I am an optimist. I believe in my newborn daughter’s ability to change the world. I believe in my wife and in our family. I believe in Love.” (web)

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